9/11 || Why We Remember Even When It’s Hard

I was just in high school when 9/11 happened. Just a naive 15-year-old. I saw the second plane hit, I ran back to tell my mom what was happening. I remember her curling her hair with tears streaming down her face. That day I shared in the shock with the rest of America, I prayed for people, I cried and felt sad. But a month later I was “fine” and couldn’t understand why people were still so upset. The trauma and grief that surrounded me then was too huge for me to understand then and  it’s taken years for me to finally process and appreciate the tragedy of that day.

iStock_000017834142XSmall

Close-up of Twin Towers victims on the photo wall at World Trade Center Museum.
Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/adrianocastelli

In the last few years I found that I started setting aside the 10th & 11th to sit and watch documentary upon documentary, to feel thoroughly immersed in the emotional turmoil of that day. It’s not that I am “fascinated” or “obsessed” with the tragedy –  it’s because it feels important to me to remember what happened. Watching  documentaries also helps me re-connect to that deep sense of national grief, of unity, a certainty that there is good and bad in this world despite so much gray.

The point is I feel within myself a deep need to remember the horrifying tragedy of that day, the senseless loss, the families and communities shattered, and the nation rocked. And this is how grief works, we are compelled by it to remember, to ache, and to ultimately see the beauty of life and the value of good lives.

I grieve 9/11 now, 12 years later, more profoundly than I did in 2001, 2 or 3.

I remember in the days after 9/11 driving around in Long Beach and seeing the evening streets faintly lit with the candle light of mourners, gathered on dirty street corners to show that they were broken-hearted. It seemed that they wanted to help somehow but the only thing they could do right then was to light a candle, to hold up a light of hope in a world that seemed much, much darker. My water-colory memory of that night has always meant something, stirred something in my soul and made me grateful to be an American.

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/AlbertoOscarelliPhotography

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/AlbertoOscarelliPhotography

Now I see 9/11 as a kind of sacred day where I put aside my daily need for Starbucks, close the fun new book I’m reading, pocket my Disneyland pass, and I sit, in silent reverence, paying tribute to the heroes lost.

I don’t know how normal this is, if other people do it, or if some year I won’t feel the need – but I know that I’ve needed it these last few years and I can feel my heart wandering to it again on this 12 year anniversary.

As a culture it seems that we like to steer away from grief in general, there’s the spoken or unspoken push to “get through it” to “let time heal you” – but for those of us who have experienced grief, we know none of those things are fair. Grief goes on for years, decades, and if we’re honest, for the rest of our lives.

I read recently in “The Funeral” (a gem of a book) by Doug Manning that, “A nation that does not honor its dead will ultimately lose its reverence for life.” (44). I think our nation does an excellent job in commemorating the lives lost on 9/11 and I’m so touched by the traditional name reading and ceremony that takes place on that site every year.

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/Ulga

Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto/Ulga

9/11 isn’t confined to just itself, it has become a symbol of all the heroes raised up and martyred in their desire to help, for the victims of senseless crimes, for the families broken in the wake of tragedy, for the evil in our lives that we must defeat.

9/11 is worthy of your time and of your remembrance. I know it’s hard, but all the good and valuable things we do in this life are hard. Take some time today & remember.

How do you remember 9/11?

Do you find value in remembering significant dates like this?

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.
This entry was posted in Ceremonies, Perspective and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Betty Fassett

    Wow, what a revelation, I wonder how many other young people have the same thoughts and feelings. I like your Mom was probably curing me hair to leave for work when I heard reporters voices on TV change the tone of their voices and looked in horror as the second plane hit. I didn’t know what to think or what to feel as I went totally numb. I still can’t get those pictures out of my head. All I could do was pray. I prayed and prayed and cried. I thought this could be the end of what we know as our freedom. Then it hit me, this great country will not sit back and let this happen. I am so thankful for the strength of our country and the people who fight so hard for our freedom. We most never forget this day and never stop remembering the loses and what it means to keep our freedom.

    • Thank you for sharing Betty. It certainly is interesting to hear the different stories we all have about that day.

      It’s remarkable to me that we all went through that numbness and emerged with our united spirit of strength, fortitude, and oneness. It’s the consistent thread through all of our stories.
      Thank you again for sharing your journey, Betty.

  • Anne

    Molly, I am so proud of our country, of the freedoms it has afforded to so many hundreds of thousands of immigrants since the days of Ellis Island. I know that to allow everyone to be able to have the freedom to earn a good living, get a great education, be able to have an operation or the treatment they desire when they become sick, to worship as they choose without fear of repercussions, to say what they want without imprisonment, to vote for the representatives of their choice and know the vote will be counted, is something we can’t take for granted.
    Many of these freedoms may not always be ours to enjoy, and we have to realize not everyone in the world likes us. Because of that, we need to take it seriously and stand for the things that count. And when we are attacked, we also need to stand together and protect our own. That to me is the story of 9-11. All the lives that were lost because of the attack, but even more, all the lives that were lost because we value life and will give our own to try to save another.
    Thanks for the well-written reminder. Life is precious. We never can truly know how precious a life is until it is taken from us. Then we see more clearly than ever.
    Love
    Annie

    • Annie,
      You hit it on the head when you say that each of those lives were taken because of the unstoppable force of the American spirit. The sacrifice and love that poured out of out of our heroes, emergency responders, and strangers in the stairwells is only a further testament to what being an American means.

      Thank you so much for reading & sharing.

  • Lori

    Molly,
    I will never forget the unimaginable images that played out before us on the television screen following the attack on our country on 9/11/2001. I remember brushing my teeth and hearing commotion on the news. I can still remember those moments of standing there, unable to move, in pure disbelief at what I was watching. There were so many emotions, but I think fear was the one that hit me the hardest. It was that fear of the unknown. Where might they hit next? Are we safe? It was such a horrible time. It changed the way of travel in the United States forever. It left a lingering fear…when might this happen again?
    I wish I was as dedicated as you are about setting aside time to remember. I tend to want to hurry past sad anniversaries. As we learned through reading The Funeral, my strategy is not the healthiest one.
    Thank you for writing this blog and making me take the time to remember today.
    Much Love,
    Lori

    • Lori, we all have different ways of dealing with our losses and our grief and my method doesn’t make my grief better or easier. The truth is, I feel depressed about the date approaching for several weeks, as I’m sure many do. Getting to cry over it and get all of that out of my system is so important, you know when you just need to cry how nothing else will do? Well, that’s how it feels. I don’t expect you to need the same thing that I do but I do hope that instead of hurrying past the next sad date you’ll feel like you can rest in it a bit and let yourself express some of what you’re feeling. No one does grief perfectly, but I know after reading the Funeral with you, we’ll be more deliberate about trying : )

  • Greg Forster

    Molly,

    Thank you for using the OCM blog to remind us, make us stop and remember this day.

    This morning, I was lucky enough to just catch, Iive on CNN, both the President and Vice-President, holding hands with their wives, walking silently out on to the beautiful, richly green south lawn of the White House. There were crowds lining both sides of their path. All was calm. With reverence, all bowed their heads for a moment of silence, and, I hope, said a quiet prayer for all who have suffered. This moment was followed by hands on hearts as a single trumpet played. Then finished, they turned around and went back from whence they came.

    Not a word was said for they had the timely wisdom to know that none were possible.

    We spoke of the concept of “Presence” today at our company-wide event.

    Quiet Presence…it can be such an elegant thing…

    Knowing that no one is dead until they are no longer remembered…makes us take up a wonderful commitment.

    Greg

    Greg

    • Thank you so much for sharing Greg. I’m glad you got to see that and that it brought you comfort. We all need it today.

  • Neil O’Connor

    HI Molly –

    Great blog, I will always remember the morning of 9/11. We where getting set for our first really large Dr. Hoy Seminar, the title was dealing with trauma & grief. We invited over 100 guest and had 80 RSVP’s. Pat was thinking about canceling the program due to the terrorist attacks, I decided to stick with the program. My thought even under this tragic terrorist attack, was if we cancel this program we are letting the terrorist win and they are now dictating to us, how we are going to leave our life, hell to the NO!

    I do believe we need to keep remembering major events in our lives. We are not very good about learning from our past, as history will tell you. So the more reminders the better, history has an uncanny way of repeating it self throughout time. May God bless our country and the men & women who keep us safe from harms way. Thank you for this great reminders that life is short & very sweet!

    • I so agree with you, remembering is vital to improving not only our selves but our nation and our world. Thank you for sharing your story of 9/11 – what incredible timing to have Dr. Hoy in town for the first time to minister and talk about grief on that sad, sad day.

  • Yes Tom, if we feel the need to participate we need to find a way to do that. It’s the healthiest thing we can do with grief, find an outlet and let it pour.

  • Jenn

    I do the same thing Molly, I have probably seen the same shows over and over every year but I feel a need to sit and watch and take it all in, sort of my way to remember or give my respects to those who were lost and those who were so brave that day. I was walking down the hallway towards the living room television when the second plane hit and remember feeling so confused like “what the heck is going on?” I was almost late for a class in my first semester of junior college and didn’t know if I should go or not, I went to class and my teacher told us to go home and turn on the tv and pray, so I did.

    • It’s still remarkable to me how much of life shut down that day. That (as Carrie mentioned below) Disneyland – a place that never closes – closed, that classes were cancelled, that we were all told to “go home”. That is the essence of mourning, to stop what you are doing, make all normalities cease, and to just “go home” and pray.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Jenn. It means so much to me to hear you share the same feelings as I do.

  • Shasta Thompson

    I was also very naive on 9/11, I think I was in 9th grade. I remember getting ready for school and my grandma was crying and very distraught watching the news as everything was happening, I didn’t even know what the pentagon was! At first I didn’t understand what was going on, I just knew it was very very bad. As the day went on and we watched the news coverage in every class, I came to understand a lot more and it was very sad. I also was surprised by the amount of racism that was shown to certain ethnic groups at the time in my own school which made me feel so bad for them as they were just kids and Americans that had nothing to do with it. I think it’s important to remember this day for all the families it effected and the heroes involved.

    • Shasta, what an important perspective. I’d forgotten as I wrote this about all the racism issues – they don’t make it to the documentaries – but you are so right in bringing that issue up as we remember this. The chaos was so real and we all wanted/needed people to blame, but that doesn’t mean we just abuse others so we feel better. Justice is the crucial element to peace. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Christopher Iverson

    Shortly after 9/11, I wrote the following song. I never recorded it, but my tradition since 9/11 has been to sing annually even if it is by myself. I share the lyrics with you.

    RISE UP…STAND TALL
    When I close my eyes I can see where the ruins stand
    The tears that stain my face are shared throughout the land
    I can see the burnt-out boots where the hero fell
    Struck down in the prime of life by the thrusts of hell
    What can I do?
    What can we do?

    Well, I say…

    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall
    There will be no dancing on our graves
    There will be no dancing for we won’t fall
    Rise up…stand tall

    When I close my eyes I can hear the widows mourn
    I see the faces of the children now who will walk alone
    In the ash and the smoke I can see the devil’s face
    Only angels of love can save this human race
    What can I do?
    What can we do?

    Well, I say…

    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall
    There will be no dancing on our graves
    There will be no dancing for we won’t fall
    Rise up…stand tall

    This is the home of the brave and the land of the free
    Sister and brother joined hand to hand from sea to sea
    Feel our will, feel our strength
    Feel our might, feel our unity
    United we stand…
    Together, forever we’re free…

    When I close my eyes I can see a more peaceful way
    That each man and each woman and child work, love and play
    Down on my knees, I pray to the Lord for his gentle relief
    From the weight of the sorrow that fills out
    these hours of grief

    What can I do?
    What can we do?

    Well, I say…

    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall
    There will be no dancing on our graves
    There will be no dancing for we won’t fall
    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall
    Rise up…stand tall

    copyright 2001
    Christopher Iverson Music
    words & music: Christopher Iverson

    • Chris, reading your lyrics gives me goosebumps. I LOVE your chorus and the beautiful symbolism it plays on. Thank you SO much for sharing this with us. Beautifully done.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Oh Molly, just the thought of 9/11 is heartbreaking. I had been to New York with some friends the week before, and that morning I was at home when the first plan hit. I was getting ready for our first “big” educational program. All I kept thinking was . . “Who will come? Who would want to come?”. As I rushed to the Holiday Inn, where I would meet Bill and Neil, this one thought kept creeping into my mind . . “We should cancel”, thinking no one would attend. Unbelievably we had about 40 folks in a room that could seat 100 for breakfast. And, as providentially as it could have been, the title of the workshop was “When Grief Gets Complicated”. We had no idea how complicated it would become. Our lives were forever changed that day. And the days, weeks, months and years that have gone by have not lightened the load. We had one family from RSM whose daughter was in the plane that hit the first tower. Her father never wants anyone to forget her . . . and we will not! Rest in Peace all you who died that day. Rest in peace knowing that we still care and we will never, ever forget!

    • Pat – what incredible timing. It’s amazing how God comes through and we can see His timing even in the midst of wondering why something so big and horrible would happen. Providence had Bill with you on that day and brought those 40 grieving people to a room that would hold and educate them for our future, post-9-11 world that desperately need their wisdom.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and for providing training and education for all our wonderful professionals!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Molly,
    I realize I am a bit late in responding to your wonderful blog, but I don’t need the exact anniversary date to remember the tragedy and horror that unfolded before my eyes as my husband and I watched the second plane hit the tower. I remember thinking that life was never going to be the same again – and it hasn’t been. My children live in a world very different from the one I grew up in. Just as the families we serve learn to live “a new normal” after the death of a loved one, so has our nation learned “a new normal”. We will never forget those killed and will continue to honor the their lives by always pausing for a moment to pay tribute to them.

  • Thank you, Diana!

  • You’re so right, Mitch. Everything changed that day. Everything we do now is “post 9/11”. Thank you so much for reading & sharing your story.

  • It’s so important to do. Thank you for sharing, Amy.

  • Carrie, I think so many of us spent the day like you, there’s something about our ability to watch the horror unfold that bound us to each other in grief and shock.

    Thank you for sharing.